Agile marketing

In today’s business world it is imperative that you be agile, that you be able to adapt to rapidly changing situations. And that is true of marketing, too. This is why Agile Marketing was created. If the past few years have taught us anything it should be how quickly things can change.

On February 1, 2020, how many of us thought that within less than six weeks we’d be in a declared global pandemic with huge disruptions to our lives and businesses?

Louis Gudema Modern MSP marketing expert

AUTHOR: Louis Gudema, Founder of Revenue Associates & Bullseye Marketing

On February 1 of this year, how many of us thought that by the end of the month central Europe would be in the throes of its first cross-border war in 75 years, producing further deaths and global disruptions?

Now we have the highest inflation in 40 years and may or may not be in a recession in a few months. Uncertainty abounds. Some industries, like hospitality, travel, commercial real estate, and physical retail, have been slammed. Others like online shopping, deliveries, and internet conferencing have prospered.

 As business people, it’s never been more important to be agile, to be able to react intelligently and rapidly to today’s challenges.

As a technologist, you may be familiar with agile software development. Realizing that traditional “waterfall” processes were too slow and product-centric, in 2001 its creators published the Agile Manifesto:

The Agile Manifesto

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

>> Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

>> Working software over comprehensive documentation

>> Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

>> Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more. Inspired by the Manifesto, and realizing that they faced similar challenges, in 2012 a group of marketers created the Agile Marketing Manifesto:

To keep up with the speed and complexity of marketing today, we are adopting new ways of working:

1.  Focusing on customer value and business outcomes over activity and outputs 

2. Delivering value early and often over waiting for perfection 

3. Learning through experiments and data over opinions and conventions 

4. Cross-functional collaboration over silos and hierarchies

5. Responding to change over following a static plan

It’s worth stopping for a few minutes and reading each of those points again. Then read them again and take some time to consider how each can impact how your MSP does marketing. It’s a manifesto that focuses on the customer– and feedback from them—at the center of marketing, data over opinion, a responsive and flexible attitude, and experimentation. (And you may find Agile to be useful in other parts of your MSP than marketing, too.)

It’s a manifesto that focuses on the customer– and feedback from them—at the center of marketing

Agile intends to lower the risk in projects by increasing the ability of the team to respond to changes in the market and project requirements, and by being closer to the customer.

Adopting agile marketing

Many marketing teams who adopt Agile Marketing report better productivity, they increase throughput, get campaigns to market faster, and improve their business results. Employees also report improved job satisfaction with the Agile method.

Agile marketing is a philosophy. Agile marketing practitioners have tended to adopt one of two methodologies for implementing it: Scrum or Kanban. Each method has certain practices and tools—the sprint, daily team stand-up meetings, and Kanban boards—but all of those are mutable. Or can be combined in unique ways. Just as all companies are different, each team needs to find or develop the form of agile that works best for it.

Scrum

Agile software development inspired the Agile marketing movement and Scrum has been adopted from the software world, as well. Some product development teams were using Scrum in the mid-1980s.

A key organizing unit for Scrum is a series of two-to-four-week sprints in which the team works to achieve specific goals and tasks by the end of the sprint. The length of the sprint cannot be changed once it starts, nor can tasks be added to the sprint.

At the start of the sprint, the team holds a sprint planning meeting to determine the goals and the tasks for each team member for that sprint and to get buy-in from the team. The team usually chooses the tasks from a product backlog of user stories. A product owner creates these user stories for the team; Scrum teams typically have one product owner.

These user stories are customer-centric and include the Actor, Action, and Achievement, such as:

>> As a [particular persona] I want to be able to [learn specific information] to [achieve certain goals].

>> As a potential customer, I want to learn about network security threats to understand how an MSP will deal with them.

>> As a car buyer interested in sustainability, I want to learn the carbon footprint of a particular automobile.

>> As a person planning a trip to Croatia, I want to find the best seafood restaurants.

User stories also include context for the request and acceptance criteria for the task. Some criteria are objective—this landing page will increase leads by X%, or this blog post will get Y shares. Some criteria are more subjective.

The team then plans a 2-4 week sprint to achieve these goals. During the sprint they may start each day with a 15-minute standing meeting. The three questions that each person answers in the daily standup are:

1. What did I do yesterday?

2. What will I do today?

3. Do I need help with anything that’s blocking me from accomplishing today’s tasks?

This keeps the team focused on getting the scrum’s tasks done. At the end of the scrum, the team will review their work and the process and plan the next sprint.

Kanban

Kanban is a continuous flow process, and when one item is completed the team member goes on to the next. Consequently, it also doesn’t have the sprint planning and review meetings that are central to Scrum.

As in Scrum, Kanban tasks can be created as user stories which are then put into the backlog on a Kanban board. Kanban boards are central to the method and are also used by some Scrum teams. (There are physical and software Kanban boards.)

The simplest Kanban board has three columns or lists:

–  To do

–  Doing

–  Done

More complex boards may have far more lists representing the stages of a process, such as this one for blog posts:

–  Conceive

–  Research

–  Write

–  Edit

–  Design

–  Post, amplify, and promote

Cards aren’t moved forward until they are considered as good as possible or, as would be said in manufacturing, error-free. In the blog post example, a writer would not move a post into editing unless they felt it was correct regarding content, spelling, and grammar—ready for publication.

And each list has a defined limit. For example, the editing list may only be able to accommodate four pieces at a time. If the list is already full, but another post is ready, it is not moved onto the edit list until one of the four existing cards is completed and moved on to design.

So Kanban is much less structured than Scrum, with fewer new roles and meetings. It is a process of continuous delivery and the continuous improvement of an existing process. It may not be as radical of a change as Scrum is for many organizations.

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These are short descriptions of two complex methodologies. Entire books have been written about each. And, teams don’t necessarily need to choose between Scrum and Kanban. They can choose the aspects of each that work best for them. The important thing is to create a process that adheres to those Agile principles that works for you.

If you do, you may find as others have that your marketing is much more customer-centric and effective.


Louis Gudema acts as a fractional head of marketing and marketing strategist for B2B tech firms and is a regular contributor to Modern MSP.